Sharing the Work, Sparing the Planet
from The Jobs Letter No.153 / 3 October, 2001
THIS BOOK CONTAINS numerous examples of creative ideas for sharing the work in
our communities and balancing our personal quality of life. Anders Hayden is the research and
policy co-ordinator for the Toronto-based 32
hours action coalition that advocates both working
and consuming less. He argues that making ecological sustainability our first economic priority
can provide a practical strategy for job creation as well as the expansion of our leisure time.
Sharing the Work, Sparing the Planet is a comprehensive, well-documented study of the
wide range of reduced work-time initiatives that have been implemented in industrialised
nations during the last 10 years. At times controversial, Hayden moves beyond pitting the protection
of the environment against the protection of jobs and argues the case for a green economic
and social vision.
Work time reduction is most commonly thought of in terms of a shorter working week,
but Hayden covers a much wider range of possibilities including parental or educational
leave, phased in or partial retirement, sabbaticals, longer holidays and any number of other ways
of reducing work hours over the a human lifetime. These other options allow for flexibility for
both employers and employees to work different schedules at different times in their lives.
Work time reduction is seen as an ecologically sound response to the employment crisis.
Hayden advocates less consumption and more thought about environmental and socially sustainable
job creation. His chapter on world unemployment, social unrest and environmental
degradation makes sober reading and he argues that the solutions of frugality and individual life
style changes, though needed, cannot be divorced from a larger political project to ensure an
equitable sharing of wealth.
Hayden points out that work time reduction is a future that has a history. At other times in
our past, technological advancement has been met with demands for greater leisure. He
documents this history from May 1st 1886, when demonstrations for the eight-hour day were held in
major industrial cities of the United States, through to the current call for work time reduction.
However some work time reduction strategies such as making machines `sweat' to the limits
of their capacity and the problem of increased leisure time providing more time to consume,
sit uneasily with an ecological vision and has led to some green suspicion of shorter work hours as
a strategy for sustainability and employment creation.
Hayden argues that the greatest obstacle to work time reduction is the dominance in
industrialised nations, of a culture consumed by growth. This culture has produced a business
sector resistance to shorter hours and a state sector focused on reducing welfare. Coupled with
falling wage rates, these strategies mean families work longer hours to meet their daily needs.
From the book ... ONE KEY REASON for the abrupt halt in the trend towards shorter hours in North America
was the rise of consumerism. A "new economic gospel of consumption" was successfully
promoted and the idea that people can ever have enough was largely dismissed. The promotion of
pseudo_needs through advertising and emulation played a part in this, but the drift to consumerism
was more than a "capitalist plot"
. mass consumption was quite willingly embraced by the masses.
Rather than accepting that the economy had reached a certain maturity and that future
progress should be in the form of freedom from
work, the state introduced a set of measures to
promote growth and generate more work for more freedom.
- As a self-contained matter, there is no great difficulty in designing policies that
would effectively bring down unemployment ... such policies would include reducing the size of
would-be employees by lengthening the period of education, advancing the age of retirement,
shortening the workweek or workday, expanding vacations and introducing training sabbaticals or
encouraging employment by generating public projects ...
Unfortunately, the pursuit of unemployment policies cannot be self-contained. The problem
is the ability of any one country being able to cope with technological unemployment as it runs
up against the constraints of globalisation.
- Perhaps a greater long-term concern is that a more socially progressive structure that
promotes employment and economic growth will come at the expense of greater
environmental degradation. Capitalism now faces two crises: "overproduction " in the economic sense of
a growing gap between productive capacities and the purchasing power of the majority of
the population, and "overconsumption" in the environmental sense of excessive demands
being made on nature. Solving overproduction by creating conditions for a new pro-growth regime
for the world will almost certainly intensify the problem of overconsumption.
- The need for an alternative version of progress is based on two parallel arguments.
First, the emphasis on growth and consumption will not give us what we want (the welfare critique).
Second, for reasons of ecological sustainability and global equity, the affluent in the North
need to redefine what it is we want (the environment critique).
... The goals of Work Time Reduction if it is to serve ecological ends should ultimately
be to find an alternative to the growth of production and consumption rather than to stimulate it,
to create leisure as an autonomous space outside of the market rather than as a new source of
market opportunities, and to start subverting the machine of capitalist consumerism rather than
to simply make that machine work more equitably and smoothly.
History shows that progress on Work Time Reduction can occur in great,
international leaps forward as with the spread of the eight-hour day in 1917-19. It is too early to tell
where the new wave of demands and initiatives for Work Time Reduction in Europe will lead,
but there are solid grounds for hope that we could well be experiencing another great
historical moment of advance on this vital front.
Sharing the Work, Sparing the Planet
Work Time, Consumption & Ecology
by Anders Hayden
((published by Between the Lines Canada, Pluto Press Australia, and Zed Books Ltd 1999))
available from amazon.com
more information on 32 hours: Action for Full Employment is available from
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